Thursday, 11 March 2004

The Soul Miner by Ray Swann, March 11, 2004

The Soul Miner by Ray Swann 
by Identity Theatre
Where and When: Trades Hall, March 8 to 20, 2004; Frankston Arts Centre, 21-24 April, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 11, 2004

The Soul Miner, written and performed by Ray Swann, is a vibrant, passionate and compelling solo show about a Gallipoli survivor.

Swann, directed by Richard Sallis and Andreas Litras, peoples the stage with vivid characters that flow effortlessly from one to another.

Jim, the central character, Swann first brings him to life in a mining accident after the war. He is trapped in a shaft trying to rescue Alfie,  an injured lad.

Jim tries to distract himself and the lad by recounting comical tales of his army mates.

As he struggles with his panic and incarceration, memories of horrific experiences at Gallipoli flood his mind.

Swann transforms before our eyes, shifting physically and vocally to inhabit another of his creations.

Multiple locations are conjured despite his being alone on an empty stage strewn with sand and with only a torch, a tiny lantern and a foldaway chair.

Swann is an accomplished performer with an engaging presence. He draws these men with great sympathy and intelligence.

Our eyes and hearts travel with him as he transports us to 1914.

We meet Frank, Jim's mischievous, garrulous mate who keeps morale up by telling jokes at the expense of the Kiwis and breaking into the quartermaster's store for cooking plonk.

Jim describes another army pal, young Davo, as a galah. Dave is uncoordinated, slow and good-hearted.

The target of Frank's ridicule is Reverend Beefy Moncrief who attempts to boost the boys' mood with inappropriate quotes from Francis Bacon and Lewis Carroll.

Sallis and Litras keep the action fluid by avoiding scene changes and using only the occasional blackout for dramatic impact. John Panetta's lighting is evocative.

There are particularly powerful images of Swann portraying an entire battalion being mown down on the beaches at Gallipoli.

He ploughs forward with his invisible rifle and bayonet, falls, rises again as another soldier until they all lie fallen.

This is a complex psychological investigation of the distraught mind of a soldier who once again faces his mortality in amine shaft.

LOOK FOR: Jim cradling the injured Frank in his arms on the beach.

By Kate Herbert

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